01. Pripyat / Chernobyl 2010

Pripyat (При́п'ять)

This is it. This is my dream.

For at least the last decade, I have had a reoccurring dream visit me nightly. I’m with a small group of friends / family, and we’re the last people left on Earth. We wander the streets with complete freedom. Voyeuristically peering into people’s homes, witnessing the remnants of the lives they’ve left behind.

Flash forward six years, I start to get into Urban Exploration and I find that such a place exists. Prypiat.

Here’s an aerial photograph. Bear in mind each of these buildings is 6 storeys high.

Aerial Photograph courtesy of www.Prypiat.com

Pripyat was founded in 1970 to house the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers, officially proclaimed a city in 1979, and was abandoned just 7 years later in 1986 following the Chernobyl disaster.
It’s massive. Its population had been around 50,000 before the accident. Annual growth of population was estimated at around 1,500. Which includes the 800 people who were actually born there.

It was relatively well served for the time, with a decent road network, as well as a railroad link to Kiev.
It was planned that the Pripyat's population should rise up to 78,000.

Getting there:
The city of Pripyat and the Zone of Alienation are now bordered with guards and soldiers. For once, I went through all the proper channels, and obtained official permissions to enter the zone. Here’s my official permission, including approved itinerary.

I fully surrendered my passport the Ukrainian authorities; months in advance, in order for them to investigate me.

Up until March this year (2010) 46 people were allowed into Pripyat per day. However, a beautiful painting that was backstage in the theatre was damaged by an idiotic selfish individual. Following this incident the maximum number of people allowed in has been reduced to 16 people (plus an official).

There are 3 Borders surrounding the mangled Reactor 4 and Pripyat. One at 30km, one at 10km, and one that surrounds Pripyat itself. All of these are borders are military patrolled by armed soldiers. Each checkpoint requires a certain set of papers and permissions, as well as passports. No photography is allowed around the checkpoints.

I am asked to sign “The Rules” before I’m allowed any further. Although I’m relieved to see text which isn’t in Cyrillic, I half read them and sign my life away, just desperate to cross the border.

Every trip to Pripyat should start with a visit to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant itself, to understand the very reason why the city is abandoned.

We stop on the verge by the side of the road, and we can see all six reactors:

Reactors 5&6 – Unfinished.

For three years following the disaster they fearlessly carried working on building reactors 5&6, before they finally said “Hang on lads, maybe this isn’t the best idea we’ve had” and construction was halted, most of the way up the cooling tower to Reactor 5.

My first sight of Reactor 4.

The radiation here is already 13 times greater than what it was at the 30km checkpoint.

The Visitor Centre (yes, it has a visitor centre) has a Geiger counter pointing straight at the sarcophagus, here the official reading is 7.42 μSv

This hobby has led me to some extreme places before, but never before I did I imagine I would be standing here, within 100m of Reactor 4. The reading here is 4.46 μSv - 32 times greater than where we entered the zone.

The concrete sarcophagus was built in a bit of a hurry, and was also only designed to last 20 years - 24 years on and it’s really showing its age, even in this photograph you can see holes and cracks in the concrete.

If the structure collapses it will send a cloud of radioactive dust into the atmosphere, the contamination from which will be comparable to the original disaster.

A replacement sarcophagus will be constructed a couple of miles away where it is slightly safer, then slid on rails to completely cover the original.

This was due for completion 10 years ago, however has yet to start construction...

The Bridge of Death:
The accident occurred at 01:23am and would have been an amazing spectacle. Unfortunately for us humans, we’re naturally curious creatures; residents from the lower apartments made their way to this bridge to get a clear view of the fire. I’ve seen people on a documentary talk about how they watched beautiful blue, green, and purple flames leap into the night sky. They were completely unaware that the wind blowing their way was carrying enough radiation to fry them from the inside out.

I look out to the reactor trying to imagine what it would have been like to have witnessed the disaster first hand, as I do so the breeze on my face picks up.

The road to Prypiat:
When the city was (eventually) evacuated, 1,100 buses ran the residents of the city down this very road. They were told it was temporary, “just a precaution” and they’d be home in a couple of days.
The zone is militarized, which means it isn’t policed. My driver takes advantage of this, as well as trying to give me a sense of the panic by driving the road to Prypiat the fun side of 100mph.

We arrive in Lenin Square, the main square. It has a supermarket, a sports centre and a hotel on it. A large metal ‘A’ has recently toppled from the sign on the hotel roof.

Many of the building interiors in Pripyat have been vandalized and ransacked over the years. Due to the fact that the buildings have not been maintained for over two decades, the roofs leak, and in the springtime the rooms are flooded with water. Trees can be seen growing on roofs and even inside the buildings.

Because of this, the government passed a prohibition to enter any of the buildings in Pripyat.

You will notice that that I have entered the buildings, 5 years after this prohibition. The only real factors which stop you are:
A: The temperament of your escort
B: The size of bribe you are willing to part with.

We make our way into the hotel, and up to the roof to get a decent view of the city.

I find the hotel log book in reception; it falls open on a page of entries from February 1983.

Hotel Gas Masks:

One thing I will never forget about Pripyat is the silence. Not only is there nobody, there is no electricity which produces the comforting hum that we have sub-consciously become accustom to in our own towns. In Pripyat people standing a hundred yards apart can have a civil conversation. We had a system that if my guide or driver needs me back in the vehicle they will honk twice.

Whilst in the fairground I heard a single honk so wandered back, only to find the driver urinating in the bushes with the van locked. He tells me it must have been a car on the ‘main road’ – some 30k away.

A whole menagerie of animals live inside the zone. In fact, they have particularly thrived since the humans left. Boars, wild horses, deer, packs of dogs, and even wild zebras have been known to wander the streets. All I see is are cats, but I’m warned away from them, not because of radiation, but because of rabies.

We made our way to the theatre, and entered through the stage door. The fly tower was huge and vacuous – the lighting rig has crashed onto the stage. My guide warns me about the state of the stage by prodding the wooden floor, until a large chunk of it drops 45ft into the basement below. The props storage area is full of these paintings.

I walked from the back stage area towards the fairground completely alone.

There’s something really disconcerting about entering such a large open space alone, and in silence. Especially when the space in question should be filled with life and laughter.

Bumper cars sit redundant

The iconic Ferris wheel has almost become a symbol for Pripyat:

The fairground was set up for the May Day celebrations. However the city was evacuated on 27th April, so was never used.

Merry go round:

There’s an area in the centre of the fairground where my guide puts down his Geiger counter. I’m amazed at what I see. It shoots up to 49.95 μSv. That’s 13 times stronger radiation than outside the front of Reactor 4! He explains that this is the area where the helicopters landed between flights to drop water and sand on the reactor fire. Each time they went over the reactor they became more and more radioactively charged.

Eventually the level reached 80 MicroSieverts (μSv ) That’s 1,600 times the safe dosage. I quickly move away and ask my guide what would happen if I curled up and had a sleep there. He looked sick and replied in a sombre Russian accent “Please don’t do that”.

I made my way over to the swimming pool. Weirdly this was still in use until 1998 by the local workers. It was only after I returned home I noticed the time on the clock is exactly that of the disaster.

Sports Hall:

The space of the swimming hall is amazing. It’s so large I cant even fit in my viewfinder with a wide angled lens. This is still 3 wide angle shots stitched together.

I ask if we can go off the beaten track from all of the ‘regular’ Pripyat landmarks, just to a regular apartment block. He agrees and just picks one at random. Despite how voyeuristic this whole experience is, I have decided not to post the photographs from inside the homes as a mark of respect.

We pass back through the Pripyat checkpoint, and our vehicle is checked for radiation. This is repeated at the 10Km checkpoint. Although they insist on me getting out of the vehicle to have a full body scan for radiation before they let me leave. A 5 second wait for either a red or green light in this machine lasts a lifetime, until eventually they deem me fit to leave the zone.

I sneak off a shot through the blacked out windows of our vehicle as we pass through the checkpoint.
“No Photographs!”

We pass the old ship yard, where massive ships lay redundant on their side. Rusting away slowly in the acidic, radioactive water. I ask if I can get out to photograph them, but he says “No way!” due to contamination. He pulls up just long enough for me to take a photograph:

All of a sudden he accelerates away at full throttle; I look back and notice a large group of people in protective white gear coming towards us from the woods.

We head back, with the Ukrainian Stig trying to set a new lap time between checkpoints. The guide suggests supper because he “knows somewhere nice”. That “somewhere nice” turned out to be the Chernobyl workers canteen, inside the zone!

We sit down to what turns out to be an amazing meal, cooked by fearless babushkas who work on regulated tariffs to avoid radiation poisoning.

A natural concern is whether it is safe to visit Pripyat and the surroundings. I thought very long and very hard about this before booking the trip. For at least three years I had the forms filled in, payment ready, and I thought about it every day, but was always uncertain about the risks associated with the radiation.

I immersed myself in researching the effects of the accident. There are two main ‘fingers’ of contamination, caused by the changing of wind direction in the hours after the accident. One ‘finger’ extends east directly over Pripyat, and the secondary finger points North up into Belarus. These areas have an extremely concentrated amounts of Caesium 137, which has a half life of around 30 years. It’s now 24 Years after the accident, and scientists are seeing a significant drop in Caesium 137. However these areas are also contaminated with the more deadly Plutonium 239 which has a half life of 24,100 years -meaning these areas will never be inhabited by humans ever again.

The doors of most of the buildings are held open to reduce the risk of radiation building up into pockets. For the same reason, many of the windows have been deliberately smashed, which has rapidly accelerated the deterioration process to the buildings.

I was advised by my guide to wear long sleeves and trousers to prevent alpha and beta particles bombarding my skin. I was advised to avoid vegetation as far as reasonably practicable, as radiation clings to organic soft surfaces. For this reason also it is essential not to put anything onto the ground. If you put your camera bag on the grass, even for a few seconds, it won’t be allowed out of the zone. Eating is prohibited in Prypiat, which is fair enough - if you swallow a ‘hot particle’ you’ll be leaving the zone in lead lined box.

Following the trip I was advised to discard my footware.

"Pripyat" has now been released by UrbanX as a high-quality hardback book. It features over 100 full colour photographs, as well as a narritive. It is available to preview and order from the link below:

Preview the entire book


“Very interesting and quite a haunting experience I should think, thank you for sharing ”
Mrs Tinman – 21.05.10 @ 16:33

“Amazing. Fantastic photos”
Wil – 21.05.10 @ 16:34

“This is something!“
Gust0o – 21.05.10 @ 16:37

“Really cool stuff!”
TDM – 21.05.10 @ 16:38

“Huge Kudos for following through on such a trip, something only a handful of people can say they've done I'm sure! ”
Si – 21.05.10 @ 16:42

“Visiting here is on my "places to go" list. Awesome thread and pictures mate ”
Protium – 21.05.10 @16:43

“Very moving, and very interesting. You've told your story so well! In my health and safety diploma lectures a few weeks ago we watched a video about Chernobyl, lots of interesting stuff, but this thread is much more so. Brilliant!”
Silddx – 21.05.10 @ 16:44

“This is ace, thanks!“
Cheddatom – 21.05.10 @ 16:51

“Good photos, as usual. Call me chicken, but that's as close as I want to get!!”
Chris_B – 21.05.10 @ 16:54

“Probably the best post I have ever read. I'd kill to go to this place, it's fantastic -- the pictures are brilliant. Thank you for sharing!
Rosh – 21.05.10 @ 16:58

“Excellent post, thanks.”
JimbobVVT – 21.05.10 @17:03

“That was amazing”
Davempire – 21.05.10 @ 17:27

“Very interesting post!”
The Inglorious – 21.05.10 : 17:27

“a place i've always wanted to visit....thanks for sharing you're a lucky fella!”
Ahpook – 21.05.10 @ 17:44

“Fantastic photos mate. Nice one.”
WHUFC Bass – 21.05.10 @ 18:31

“One of the best threads I've seen on any forum!! Those photographs are absolutely fantastic!!”
Bartleby – 21.05.10 @18:38

“Awesome photos, and a great write up. Im very jealous. I'd love to go there. An experience Im sure you will remember for a long time!
TRadford – 21.05.10 @18:39

“great pictures. Fascinating story well told.”
rOB – 21.05.10 @19:01

“Thanks. That's amazing.
The fairground and room with the books are so sad.”

OldGit – 21.05.10 @19:06

“Fantastic. I'm not given to such outbursts, but some of the pics and the way you tell the story really moved me. Thanks for going to the trouble of posting this”
Moo3sh – 21.05.10 @ 19:32

“Fascinating stuff as usual. Each one of those pictures would make a great album cover!
Steve – 21.05.10 @ 19:34

“Awesome mate, just awesome.”
Johnny Lager – 21.05.10 @ 19:35

“This is very interesting, and you are a brave chap Great photos”
MusicMan20 – 21:05.10 @ 22:11

“Amazing dude, just amazing. It's really sad to look through the photos though, thinking of all the people the Russians killed, hurt or doomed by not asking for help. Still, you're brave for going in there. I wouldn't go there for at least another 30 years.. too concerned about radioactivity haha.”
Tom Kent – 21.05.10 @ 23:16

“As a fellow photographer and bass player, I award you great kudos; not only for your photographs but for your sensitive narration as well. Very well done.”
DekSawer – 22.05.10 @ 01:48

“This would make a very good magazine article - why not get it published?”
The Inglorious – 22.05.10 @ 08:05

“This is an awesome thread with some truly sobering pictures.”
Kets – 22.05.10 @ 09:16

“Absolutely amazing photographs, great work! This is definitely something that I have to see for myself before I die”
Eskimo Bassist – 22.05.10 @ 10:21

“Fabulous thread - I 've enjoyed your previous ones and then explored your website. Really interesting - not something I'd like to do myself but I really like seeing and reading about it. Extremely interesting - thanks! Thanks for posting”
Mike – 22.05.10 @ 10:52

“Very professional pictures, i have always wondered about chernobyl and prypiat when i first heard of the disaster years ago but now i have seen it it looks very other-worldy and post-apocalypsey.
I myself would like to go and see all these things and i am interested in the history behind it all but i would be too scared incase i got exposed to too much radiation, so you are VERY brave.”

MetalMoore – 22.05.10 @ 11:15

“Amazing pictures.”
Brave Sir Robin – 22.05.10 @ 11:26

“This is something I'm very similar with and well done mate, it's something I've considered doing but the radiation and all that as you said. I have a personal connection with the events of 1986 that may or may not have affected my family for the rest of our lives.”
Faceman – 22.05.10 @ 09:27

“The most interesting post Ive ever seen. Really enjoyed this, thank you for posting.”
KevBass – 22.05.10 @ 10:15

“Fantastic, fascinating post. Really enjoyed the pics and the words. I agree, you should see about getting it published. I love this kind of stuff and have often looked at websites to do with exploring derelict places. Not sure I fancy it myself, but I love to read about it.”
Deep Thought – 23.05.10 @ 22:14

“Fantastic post mate, thanks for that! I've always been really interested in this sort of thing, abandoned buildings etc and chernobyl/prypiat has really interested me.”
Budget Bassist – 24.05.10 @ 00:24

“stunning, just stunning. Thanks so much for posting them, ive been fascinated by stuff like this ever since discovering about Famagusta on Cyprus one holiday, and really enjoy the CoD level, but these pics and narrative are just something else bud”
GafBass02 – 24.05.10 @ 00:24

“That's utterly marvellous, your photos and write-up give a good idea of what it's like to be there.
I still dream of going there, but I have heard it's quite costly all in all.”

-Lost - 24.05.10@ 14:43

“That's seriously eerie and I'd love to go. Kudos for the report and the bottle”
Curlyben 24.05.10 @ 15:56

“I have to echo what everybody has posted here, absolutely stunning pics and a well presented piece of work! Thanks for sharing what must have been a fantastic trip.”
Sy – 24.05.10 @ 16:00

“A truly outstanding report and photos. Thanks for all the written details and information, you make it sound like an exciting and entrancing place to visit. Would love to go but whether I would have the 'cajones' to is a different matter. Once again great report and a visit that will stay in your memory for a long time to come I suspect.”
-Winch It In – 24.05.10 @ 17:08

“urbanX, that is one of the best reports i have read on this place, i find chernobyl fascinating, cheers for that ”
-Tommo 24.05.10 @ 20:15

“That is the best report of this place that I have ever read. Your photographs and write up as absolutely excellent, I have really enjoyed reading all about it. Really really big thanks to you mate for this brilliant post!”
-TK421 – 24.05.10 @ 20:15

“Agree with everyone - that is a stunning report. Thanks!”
-Parcans – 25.05.10 @ 00:32

“One word - wow.
Absolutely fantastic write-up and photos, and info! Very well done.
Thanks very much for sharing that with us ”

-Jimba 25.05.10 @ 00:39

“Absolutely Brilliant!

You read about it, you hear about it, you watch documentaries about it, you run around the place (mainly the fairground and swimming pool) on Call-ofDuty4 and you, sir, have been there, took the photos and got the t-shirt to boot!


Matty 25.05.10 - @ 18:34

” I've never posted on these forums before, so hi and WOW! What an excellent report. I could look at photos of Chernobyl and Pripyat for hours. That fairground is so....I don't know...desolate. What a pilgrimage for a fan of derelict places! Thank you.”
Lithofacies - 25.05.10 @ 22:36

” To start a report with the words 'This is it. This is my dream.' is just genius!

It's what I thought as I looked through this outstanding report, please let us see some more pics.”

Neill - 25.05.10 @ 23:52

” Blimey UrbanX, that's a terrific report...beautifully written with bags of atmosphere (an uncontaminated one, hopefully! ).
Well done, that man...and thankyou very much for sharing it. ”

FoxyLady - 26.05.10 @ 00:20

” very moving. what an incredible place. Fantastic pics, you have captured the eeriness of the city and the feel of your trip beautifully. would love to see more.”
Ianianian - 26.05.10 @ 00:29

” I keep wanting to post a reply to this, but I just don't know what to write. I'm actually lost for words.

Surely there's no derelict place that can top this?

Goafer - 26.05.10 @ 00:54

” brilliant just brillant thats one of the best reports iv ever seen !!!!”
Marley85 – 26.05.10 @ 01:38

”great report write up! thanks for sharing. really want to go here myself!”
Scrappy – 26.05.10 @ 05:23

”Well Done UrbanX, great report!

I'm heading that way myself later this year. Question: if you're not allowed to put anything on the ground, where does that leave you with regard to using a tripod? Surely a metallic object is no worse than your own feet, for argument's sake?”

Muppix – 26.05.10 @ 13:38

” I have to agree, this is the best report of a Pripyat visit I've read. It clearly had quite an effect on you.

Thank you for taking the time to write and share it.“

Krela – 26.05.10 @ 13:59

” Seriously awesome shots :O
Beccy – 03.06.10 @ 12:16

” Fantastic photos, excellent report and very emotively written.

Thanks for sharing.”

BFG316 – 03.06 @ 16:18

” fantastic stuff me and the Mrs were watching the 1996 Horizon documenty this morning and really want togo

great pics and write up thanks for sharing “

Mr Sam - 04.06.10 @ 10:57

” Some very nice pics Are the kittys still cross eyed?”
Lilli – 06.06.10 @08:20

” I really enjoyed reading your report mate,nice one ”
Wherever I May Roam – 06.06.10 @ 11:32

” Hi just joined the site last week been on nearly every night since ! . What can i say BLOODY HELL ! the whole report and pics are sending shivers down my spine absolutley amazing would love to go. Thanks.“
Chris K – 07.06.10 @ 23:11

” Amazing report

Read every word and lingered over every picture, you have serious balls for going anywhere near there but the results are incredible....I only joined a couple of days ago and this is one the best reports I've read so far ”

Hal Chase – 09.06.10 @ 14:45

” interesting report, well done with enough pics.”
Derelicta – 11.06.10 @ 19:55

” I don't usually comment but i just could not take my eyes of this report and read each word and spent time looking at each one of your pictures in detail (which is not like me, i tend to skim read picking out details).Takes a bloody good report to keep me nterested, well done!

Absolutly fantastic”

SCL001 – 15.06.10 @ 11:33

” Did you take the radiation monitors or do they provide them ? I would love to go and see the place but I think that I would probably want to take my own monitoring gear and a respirator! Fantastic Report and I have passed it on to several of my friends in Health Physics who have all been very impressed!”
Gingrove – 15.06.10 @ 13:50
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